At my family’s house, St. Patrick’s Day meant these things:

  • an early morning treasure hunt—cryptic clues on shamrock-shaped paper, leading to a pot of gold (candy) and a present for all (recorders or kazoos or, one year I think, a family skateboard)
  • our powdered milk dyed green (the green didn’t help the flavor)
  • treats for the classroom of each elementary-school-aged Olson, hand-delivered by Mom and the pre-school children, the oldest of whom would be dressed in a leprechaun outfit my mom made back in the day.  (I have never seen anything I like better than a younger sibling toddling into my class at school, carrying cookies and wearing a green-and-white-striped shirt (not unlike a ref’s shirt), a green vest, and a long, scraggly, fuzzy orange beard.)
  • corned beef and cabbage and, after we became friends with our Irish neighbors, the Haits, Irish soda bread (which I learned to prefer with raisins)
  • heated meal-time discussions of the secret recipe for green eggs that Mom apparently used to make, which recipe she promised to reveal if we ever guessed it right, which we never have.  (Mom stopped making the eggs when she thought we were old enough that she wouldn’t be able to hide the secret ingredient; as a consequence, my memories of the eggs themselves are so dim as to be folkloric.  Still, the guessing continues.)

I loved St. Patrick’s Day at my house.  Loved that, for reasons never clear to me, it was a big deal to us.  To my mom.  I wanted to go to school and say—Wait, you’re only celebrating today by wearing green and trying not to get pinched?  Please.  Come to our house and we’ll show you how it’s done.

I don’t know why we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day so thoroughly.  Why Mom went so far out of her way to observe it each year.  Making the treasure hunts meant waking up early.  Meant being clever.  Meant planning and preparing and crafting for a five-minute pre-breakfast mad dash and the short-lived delight of kids finding sugar.  And I’m sure dressing a mini-Olson in a scratchy beard and a tight-necked turtle neck meant a yearly fight.  I remember more than one St. Patrick’s Day on which my classroom was visited by only half a leprechaun.  (Mom would follow behind the toddling cookie-bearer and point and mouth sadly to me, “Didn’t want to wear the hat.”)

We’re not even Irish.  Or not particularly so.  (We’re Scot-Irish.  Does that count?)

And other holidays passed by with much less to do.  It’s not like celebrating is my mom’s number one thing.  She’s not the kind of mom who’s in perpetual holiday mode.  She makes no tablescapes.  Our dishware doesn’t change with the seasons.  We’re lucky if we get the Valentine’s Day wreath I made down before the Fourth of July decorations go up.

Actually, I’m not sure we have Fourth of July decorations.

I’m saying this all to you because I spent the weekend with my roommate’s family.  We went home to her family’s house to help with her parents’ float in their town’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.  (Her parents are local business owners.)  I wore green pipe cleaners twisted into bows at the end of my braids and passed out candy to friendly spectators along the parade route.

But I also spent the weekend watching my roommate’s mom love my roommate.  Love her and love us.  She made us sandwiches, comfortable beds, cookies to take on the trip home.  As I left, she hugged me and kissed my cheek and said, “Love ya.”  She cried when we pulled out of the driveway.  She waved as we drove away down the street.

I guess what I’m saying is this St. Patrick’s Day, I’m thinking of mothers.  I love my mother.  Because of her early morning sacrifices long ago, St. Patrick’s Day is this day that means something to me.  Who would have guessed that?  That childhood traditions would mean that, as an adult, I feel poignantly about the wearing o’ the green?

I’m grateful that my mother wanted so badly to show her love for us that she turned a silly, irrelevant holiday into a recurring and tender way to say I love you.

I love you, she said.  Here’s a shamrock.  Go find yourself a recorder.